From the Grey Market to the Green Market

By A7nubis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As Canada moves towards cannabis legalization, Toronto craft cannabis entrepreneurs continue to demonstrate what public cannabis edible sales and onsite consumption can look like.

Lisa Campbell launched The Green Market in 2016 and the pop-up event was designed with the intention to create a safe space for craft cannabis producers to showcase their cannabis infused edibles and other cannabis products.

“Our first event had over 300 people, attracting Torontonians from all different walks of life with a family atmosphere,” said Campbell who almost immediately began planning successive events.

Future plans were impacted by Project Claudia, a string of cannabis dispensary raids by the Toronto Police Service which lead to the closure of over 100 cannabis stores throughout the GTA. It was the series of raids which made clear to Campbell there was a need for the Green Market due to the limited access to cannabis edibles.

“The Green Market continued to push for access as none of the products available in our market were available in dispensaries or through the federal medical cannabis program,” said Campbell, who partnered with the Cannabis Friendly Business Association and fundraised over $5000 for the organization which represents cannabis businesses across the country. “As our events became bigger and bigger, we shortly outgrew our original venue and began hosting a monthly night market Nuit Vert with live music and entertainment. Now a year later we are getting ready to celebrate our anniversary with over thousands of attendees and over 30 cannabis brands.”

When it comes to provincial distribution of cannabis, Campbell hopes to see provincial licensing similar to alcohol allowing farmers markets, private storefronts, restaurants and lounges. “If the AGCO can license a bar, then they should be able to licenses lounges … Let’s start with alcohol as the baseline for sensible drug policy, and then regulations can loosen over time. Policy makers need to remember that cannabis is safer than alcohol, so it should be adjudicated as such.”

Campbell mentioned that “insider sources” have indicated to her we may see a Liquor and Cannabis Control Board Ontario (LCCBO). “While taxes province to province will be removed, any product distributed to customers may go through provincial government warehousing in Ontario to ensure community safety and quality assurance for recreational products.”

With an upcoming provincial election fall 2018 and legalization implemented by July 2018, Campbell believes the cannabis industry and community is well situated to impact policy.

“Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating has sunk … so the cannabis industry is in a unique bargaining position,” said Campbell who added that private licensed dispensaries have the support of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “The City of Toronto recommended pharmacies as the solution to the dispensary crisis, so worst case scenario we have pharmacies and government stores, with licensing for lounges and restaurants in the near future.”

It wouldn’t be the end of days in Campbell’s opinion however if cannabis is sold through the LCBO or an equivalent governmental organization for cannabis as cannabis businesses could “stop fighting with the community over distribution” and that every Ontarian would be able to access cannabis as the organization would have a mandate to service all residents.

“The LCBO also prioritizes local craft Ontario brands for shelf space, so there’s opportunities for smaller licensed companies to get their brand out to customers,” said Campbell. “Brick and mortar storefronts are expensive to start, so it levels the playing field for licensed producers as they’ll already have a flagship stores across the province instead of a corporate monopoly like Tweed Mainstreet.”

Approaching legalization, Campbell notes that the main fight ahead is to ensure cannabis businesses are championed and not legislated away.

“… there are so many different businesses which could thrive in Ontario including bakeries, restaurants, lounges and other creative social cannabis spaces,” said Campbell. “If we don’t fight for social spaces for consumers to enjoy cannabis, then we’ll end up having to spend even more money to revise our policies to catch up with legalization.”

Jon Liedtke is a writer, newspaper guy, trumpet player, lover of democracy, bagels and lox, & cannabis.